Getting (Thanks, Mom!), Spending, And Other Aspects Of Teen Finance

The economics of teenage life didn’t matter much in the days when households spent all their money on necessities. Now, of course, teens deploy a hefty share of the discretionary funds rattling around in the U.S. economy. A poll of kids age 14-18 by Find/SVP gives a detailed look at where the money comes from and where it goes.

A majority of the teens (58 percent) spend $10 to $30 per week on “non-essential items.” Twenty-five percent spend $30-60, 10 percent spend $60-90 and 8 percent spend (or, at least, claim to spend) more than $90 per week. Asked to identify the items (non-essential or otherwise) that they buy “most often,” 75 percent of kids included clothing on the list. Majorities also cited music CDs and/or DVDs (54 percent) and tickets to sporting events, concerts, etc. (51 percent). Health and beauty aids, consumer electronics and jewelry were all mentioned by more than one-fourth of respondents. Kids like to pay for their purchases in cash, with 93 percent including it among their “preferred” methods of payment. Debit cards (cited by 26 percent) had more partisans than credit cards (17 percent). Among those who do use credit cards, 55 percent said they have at least one issued in their own name.

Teenagers’ spending money comes from a number of sources, the foremost of which are known as Mom and Dad. Seventy percent of the respondents said their mothers provide them with spending money; 58 percent said their fathers do so. Nineteen percent get money from a grandmother, and 14 percent tap a grandfather. The kids aren’t exclusively moochers, though: 26 percent earn money at an after-school job.

Implausible as it may seem, 88 percent of the kids said they try to salt away some of the money that comes their way. When asked to specify the proportion of their income they save, a plurality of respondents (43 percent) said they save from 46 percent to 60 percent of it. One in five said they save from 76 percent to 100 percent, with another 7 percent saying they save 61-75 percent. And what are kids saving for? About half said it’s for the catchall “things I may want or need in the future or for emergencies.” Just over one-third said they’re saving for their education. That figure might be higher were it not that 88 percent of the kids expect to cover at least some of their college expenses via scholarships.

It would be nice to think that some of the kids are saving so they can support their parents in the latter’s old age. After all, when asked how they expect to fund their own retirements decades from now, a foresighted 19 percent declared that “my children will support me.”